Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Question of Revision - Do You Believe in Nature or Nurture?

The first time I stepped out of my insular writing cocoon and sought
wisdom from traditionally published authors and agents who blog, I ran
into the same piece of advice several times in an hour:

"Revise. Revise. And again I say, revise."

"Don't send me your first draft."

"I don't want to be the first person to see your book that isn't you."

"I don't care if your family and friends loved it. They would. I want
to know you've made it the very best it can be before you sent it to

I knew the people who said these things were right. After all, I've
never played sport without being coached and attending practice. I've
never cooked a meal without following a recipe or using skills I
developed from following recipes in the past. I've never done anything
worthwhile that I can think of without research or rehearsal or

So I revised. Again and again and again. And I'm happier with the
results on each of my books every time I take another pass.

But not everyone feels like me. I'm wondering why. Is it just
different processes? Different personalities? Different vocational

I'd love to hear your opinion / approach to revisions. Do you revise?
If not, why not? And if so, what do you gain?

As I mentioned, I find revisions a really positive investment of my
time. But they're far from easy. If you haven't revised before and
you're considering taking the plunge, here's some things I've
discovered in three years of revising:

1. Sometimes I have made errors in revision that I've had to go back
and fix later (in yet another round of revision) which stinks. But
that doesn't mean the revision wasn't worth it. Sometimes I have to
try something to discover it doesn't work.

2. It takes a certain level of determination and patience to make
revising worthwhile. It can't be done flippantly or hurriedly, because
it will just have to be done again anyway when you rush past problems
that are too hard or too subtle.

3. Revising is a completely different skillset to drafting. Drafting
is an almost unadulterated creative process. Revision is very
analytical - not to mention, technical. I found I didn't become truly
effective at revisions until I'd been close-edited by my former agent.
I learnedly more in that process about "writing tight" and story
structure than in the rest of the three years combined.

Your Turn: Now, clearly I'm a fierce adherent to the revision process.
But I'll admit, it hurts when I have a new, fun story boiling away and
I'm still pecking at the first one. So, I'm interested - how do you
approach revising? When do you choose for or against and why? And how
you balance having more than one inspiration process on the go at a


  1. Revision is normally a piece of cake for me. Not because I'm awesome, but because it is much easier for me to tackle the analytical portion of writing than the unadulterated creative process. Then again, maybe I'm not doing it right.

  2. I'm currently revising my debut novel. I was completely lost and terrified at the thought of even printing it. So I looked around online and found an excellent, though work intensive, revision course by Holly Lisle. It's entitled How to Revise Your Novel, #HTRYN in twitter. Really excellent, very methodical which suits me. Five month program.

    1. Excellent tip, David. Thanks! I'm going to check that out.

  3. I'm not a huge fan of revision because it's so draining but in my case, it's insanely important to the process. Looking at it in a new format usually draws my attention to a problem that needs fixing, etc. and then I'll revise/rewrite until it's fixed. Beta readers are priceless in this way: if they can point out problems with the plot/style/characters/etc that I never considered, and I agree with them, I always revise. And with that, usually the story becomes deeper with elements I never realized in earlier drafts. For any new ideas I want to one day write, I have a working email draft I keep adding ideas to and then save so that I can keep everything together, but honestly, I'm so freaking in love with my current story, I can't work on anything else right now.

  4. I'm the opposite to Randy - I actually love the unadulterated creative process. I get the story out fairly quickly and usually without too many hiccups in the process.

    The revision part is really difficult for me, because the day-job administrator / control freak comes out in me and I spend far too much time revising and often lose my way.

    I'm thinking because I'm a newbie and didn't study English at university, and therefore my technical language / story-writing skills need much polishing, that this is why revision is so difficult - plus I have ridiculous expectations!

    There would be no way on earth that I would *ever* let anyone read my work without at least one full revision (probably more like three). I don't get how some people don't revise.

    I haven't mastered the art of revising one project whilst creating another (usually the revision project goes by the wayside). So I'll be interested to see what others do :)

  5. I remember my second finished novel: I went through and fixed all the typos and called it revised, edited, and polished. Ha!

    I was in for a surprise. Turns out, real revising was the bane of my existence. Probably still is. I took one look at the huge task before me and cried. And procrastinated. And cried some more.

    But when I finally did it, I discovered it to be a) easier than my tears had predicted, though not without work, and b) WAY worth it. The end result stunned even me. Wow! This works!

    Now I have the benefit of knowing that revision will do marvelous things for the book...but that doesn't mean I still cry over the prospect. :) I'd much rather be drafting, haha.

  6. I'm a hardcore reviser too. It can be hard to know when enough is enough. I'm hoping to reach the end point on my revisions soon, but at the moment the light at the end of the tunnel still looks pretty distant! The fact that I'm spending more time reading blogs about editing than actually editing probably doesn't help! :-)